Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reviews: Blood of the Wicked & Lure of the Wicked by Karina Cooper

Blood of the Wicked by Karina Cooper
From the back cover:
When the world went straight to hell, humanity needed a scapegoat to judge, to blame . . . to burn.
As an independent witch living off the grid, Jessie Leigh has spent her life running, trying to blend in among the faceless drudges in the rebuilt city. She thought she was finally safe, but now she's been found in a New Seattle strip club—by a hard-eyed man on a mission to destroy her kind.
A soldier of the Holy Order, Silas Smith believes in the cause: trawling the fringes of society for the murderous witches who threaten what's left of the world. Forced into a twisting web of half-truths and lies, he has to stay close to the most sensuous and electrifying woman he has ever seen and manipulate her into leading him to the witch he has to kill: her brother. Silas doesn't know that Jessie's his enemy, only that he wants her, needs her, even as he lies to her . . . and must protect her until his final breath.

This is the first book in the Dark Mission series, set in the post-cataclysmic world of New Seattle.  At first glance, the author does a nice job of evoking the grim, paranoid, wet (Hey, alternate world or not – it’s still Seattle), world that has emerged after catastrophic events destroyed much of the city. It has a dark atmosphere and evocative, moody tone that I am a fan of.  New Seattle has been built over the ruins of old Seattle and what was once a diverse, vibrant city has been sharply divided between the haves and the have-nots.  The rich and well to do live in the soaring towers built over old Seattle, with security, sunlight and fresh air, while the poor and downtrodden live below in the ruins of the old city.  At least I think they do.  The book falls short when it came to describing the details that would have given me a fuller picture.  (WTF is the carousel?  Is it a futuristic highway?)  I really wish Cooper had given us more detail.  The world of Blood of the Wicked sounds kinda cool but I never felt like the descriptions went deeper than surface level and left me with only a vague picture of the setting.  I also had trouble grasping how this society works.  What exactly is the Holy Order?  How did they come into power? What is the philosophy the church has been built upon?  What’s the cause that drives them?  (Beyond killing witches, that is.) I really wanted to know more.

I can tell ya this, though – the bad guys are really bad, no ifs ands or buts about it.  Their acts of baddery are truly heinous.  And I dig that.  I like that they are evil.  These are folks who have truly committed to their career choice.  But, again, I’m not sure what motivates them.  In age old tradition of comic book villains, they seem driven for a quest for power.  But why?  As far as I can tell, the bad witches don’t have a political or social agenda, nor does it seem to be a civil rights issue.  They are bad because they are the villains and they are the villains because they are bad. So why do they need to overthrow an entire city?  I mean, what’s the goal here?  The first step towards world domination?

But the good guys aren’t so hot either.  They kill witches.  Any witch they can find – man, woman, and child.  Doesn’t matter if the witches have never committed a crime and have lived a blameless life. The only good witch is a dead witch.  This is kinda cool too.  The fight between good and evil is so much more interesting when the characters are morally ambiguous.  This series has some great ideas but the execution doesn’t work for me.  I never understood why witches were blamed for the catastrophe.  The link is never made clear.  It just is.  So it’s hard to understand why the world believes all witches to be bad and so the good guys slide ride past morally ambiguous into outright dickheadery.

My other big problem was the romance.  The tone didn’t fit with the rest of the story. It almost felt like I was reading two different books.  An action, on-the-run thriller and an over the top, can’t-stop-thinking-with-my-naughty-bits romance.  I found it hard to buy, frankly.

The hero was a jerk off and a bigot with a madonna/whore complex .  Over the course of two days, Jessie is attacked numerous times, she is kidnapped by Silas, and basically treated like a criminal.  Which technically she is since she is a witch.  Not that Silas knows this.  If he did, he'd kill her.  After all, it is his job.  Silas is a bitter, bitter man.  Sexy on the outside, maybe, but ugly on the inside.  It’s hard to see the appeal.

After leaving Jessie tied to the radiator at the safe house so she can't escape, Silas leaves to report in at Mission headquarters.  Upon his return, he finds that although Jessie has managed to free herself from her restraints, she has remained at the safe house.  You'd think he'd be relieved. Silas's immediate response? His dick twitches.  Naturally this pisses him off.  And naturally it is Jessie's fault that he cannot control his body's response to her.  So he takes his anger out on her by pulling out graphic crime scene photos from her brother's alleged crimes and shoving them in her face.  When Jessie pushes the photos away, he grabs her to force her to continue looking.  When she fights to get away, he forces her down and we get this:
"Her eyes narrowed, chest heaving with every breath.  He could feel every line of her body against his own.  Every furious breath pushed her breasts firmly into his chest, small and erotic and so real.  Her pulse pounded in the delicate wrists he held pinned above her head, echoed in a flutter at the warm skin at the base of her throat.
Silas was suddenly, achingly aware that she was helpless beneath him, and his body responded with a tidal wave of sudden arousal.  It swamped him.  Raw instinct and sexual need."
Yeah.   Nothing like having a woman at your mercy to turn you on, eh Silas.  Nothing says foreplay like photos of eviscerated victims.

And Jessie has some kind of super Stockholm syndrome.  After two days of Silas treating her like shit and porking her brains out, she thinks she could love him...  Are you fucking kidding me?  Girl, you need some serious therapy.   Just ‘cause you make some dude’s dick twitch doesn’t mean he’s a keeper.   I really wish there had been some scenes where Silas and Jessie just talked.  Got to know each other beyond – He makes me wet, She gets me hard.  True love!….  I wanted to see that these two liked each other despite their massive differences.  Otherwise, the romance is just too fucked up for me to invest in.

Lure of the Wicked by Karina Cooper
From the back cover:
Naomi West was plucked from one prison and placed undercover in another: the gilded cage that is Timeless, New Seattle's premier spa and resort, where owner Phinneas Clarke—the most seductive man Naomi has ever met—may be hiding a killer. She's an agent of the Holy Order, trained to hunt the guilty and render justice. But while she's tracking down a rogue agent on a killing spree, Phin is determined to uncover her most damning—and dangerous—secrets. Whatever the cost.

I had less of a problem with this book.  I still don’t know much more about what makes this world tick but I’m willing continue the ride.  I liked both lead characters, especially Phin who is smooth, polished and sensitive without being a pushover.  He’s a nice contrast to Naomi, who is fierce and kickass.  The romance between the two is fine, nothing earth shattering, but engaging enough to hold my interest

The relationship that annoyed the fuck out of me though, was the one between Phin and his two moms, refined, sophisticated Lillian and warm, bohemian Gemma.  I am ALL for positive depictions of GBLT family relationships  but I still want characters that are real people, not social statements.  The scenes between the three were so hokey, so unbelievable, the main point being to show what incredible, loving mothers these two lesbians are.  Hit me over the head, why dontcha.  At one point, Phin even thinks, "His parents were his world."  Isn’t it weird for a grown man to feel that way about his parents?  I mean, a man should love and respect his family… but his whole world?  Really?

Lure of the Wicked has lots of action, some mystery, and hawt sex.  Not a great read but not a bad read either.

I had a lot of trouble writing these reviews and, believe it or not, have been trying to get them done for several weeks.  There are so many things I didn’t like in both books. And several ways in which the world and the stories fell short.  BUT… I’m not done with this series just yet.  I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is something intriguing about it.  The third book, All Things Wicked, will be about Jessie’s brother Caleb.  Considering the horrifying acts he committed in Blood of the Wicked, it should be interesting to see how that goes.  I hope she doesn’t try to excuse his actions – that’s a real pet peeve of mine.  But considering the fact that she didn’t try to redeem Silas in book one, I have hopes.  I’m also keeping my fingers crossed that Cooper will get more in-depth in regards to the world building.  What she’s sketched out sounds fascinating.  So give me more please of it, please.

* I received both books via

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